It is a little-known fact that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the president of a union for station masters, who fought for the right of the men on whose shoulders rested not just the smooth running of trains but also their safety and security. Vajpayee spent 12 years, from 1959 to 1971, as the president of the All India Station Masters’ Association (AISMA) — the last non-cadre member to be an office-bearer of the union.
Umashankar Singh was just shy of 30 years of age when he first saw Vajpayee, who was then emerging as the leader of the union. He remembers the former prime minister as a “man who led from the front”.
“He inspired generations at a time when we did not even know what our rights were. He encouraged us to demand our rights. His speeches were awe-inspiring. He was the president of AISMA from 1959 to 1971. He is no longer leading us, but we still follow his ideals,” Singh told PTI over phone.
He recalled meeting the BJP stalwart when the latter had become the Jan Sangh chief in 1968 and said he met them as one of them and not as one of the most prominent leaders of the country. At that time, Singh recalled, Vajpayee was already an elected member of Parliament.
In 1986, when Singh became the president of AISMA and was on a hunger strike in front of Parliament, Vajpayee intervened and convinced him to break his fast.
“He visited me and pushed me to break my fast. His kindness was touching,” Singh remembered. Vajpayee prominently featured in the annual diary of the AISMA last year as a “legendary” workers’ leader. The former prime minister’s 12-year stint as the AISMA president also finds a mention in the “biography” section of his profile on the Lok Sabha website.